Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve 2009

So I'm sitting here...oh, incoming. Lovely.

Okay, it's about three hours later. I had literally just taken one sip of my Coors Fake Beer and started typing when Big Voice announced incoming. The fake beer isn't anything to write home about, by the way. It tastes like a very weak light beer at first sip, but there's something missing...besides the alcohol, that is.

I was fixing to write a post about the other night, when I had occasion to listen to two Army chaplains have very lengthy and quite in depth discussion about Star Trek, all of the spin-offs, each of the movies, many of the characters, and Gene Roddenberry and his humanist views and the role his agnosticism played in the series and movies. They then delved into a comparably in depth discussion about the Star Wars franchise, the morality of each of the main characters, and how the Jedi compared to Buddhist monks.

It was a hilarious conversation to listen to, and I fear I lack the ability to convey just how geeky and surreal the entire experience was. I was going to try, though, until Johnny Jihad decided to help us celebrate New Year's Eve by throwing some ordinance our way.

So instead I threw on my IOTV (body armor) and helmet, got a headcount of my boys, and waited for the all clear. Then we trotted over to the Area Defense Operations Center(ADOC) and got accountability of everyone. Then we got flashlights and did a sector search of the entire camp, making sure there wasn't any UXO sticking out of the ground anywhere. This took awhile.

I was escorting a couple of civilian reporters and an Army Public Affairs journalist around while all this was going on. Mainly that consisted of me standing around while they followed the soldiers around, taking pictures of them scanning the ground and peering under vehicles with flashlights. By one barracks was the remnants of an abandoned party, grilled hamburgers growing cold on paper plates, near beer getting warm on picnic tables. Kinda sad, really.

Finally we checked the entire camp and we were allowed to stand down. We were informed that at least seven mortar rounds were fired, and at least two of them struck one of the adjoining camps, destroying some vehicles and wounding two soldiers. How badly I don't know.

So that's my New Year's Eve. I'm back in the room and in ten minutes, it'll be 2010. I'm polishing off another Coors Fake Beer and about to call it a night. I wish I had a real beer. I'm tired and my back hurts. I miss my girlfriend. It would be nice to be on a crowded dance floor with her somewhere, doing the countdown. Kissing.

Well. Maybe next year.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Merry Chrisemas

Well, it's Christmas. I took my boys out for a short run this morning. Everybody took the day off, but not PSD. On our walk out to the running track, I butchered 'Fairytale of New York' for them. None of them had heard it before. On the march back, we sang Christmas carols. 'Jingle Bells'. 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer'. The first verse of 'Frosty the Snowman', because nobody could remember the words to the rest.

Back in July, my company commander told some guys that I'm a Scientologist. I've played along. About half the company believes it, with the other half suspecting I'm pulling their legs. Sometimes somebody will ask me about Tom Cruise or L. Ron Hubbard, trying to push my buttons. I always play it very serious. This morning, one of my boys decided to go there.

"Sergeant, are we out here doing PT on Christmas because not all of us believe in Jesus?"

"Drop, you. Do pushups."

"One, Staff Sergeant. Two, Staff Sergeant. Three, Staff Sergeant..."

I formed the rest of the platoon into the Extended Rectangular Formation.

"Extend to the left, march! Arms downward, move! Left, face! Extend to the left, march! Arms downward, move! Right, face! From front to rear, count off! Even numbers to the left, uncover!"

I bent down to where my young smart ass was dutifully pushing. "Twenty three, Staff Sergeant. Twenty four, Staff Sergeant.."

"Listen up, you. You mock my belief system again, and you will be a very unhappy young man. You got that?"

"Roger, Staff Sergeant."

"Recover and fall back in."

Anything to pass the time.

It's just another day here, pretty much. We had a White Elephant gift exchange for the company. I donated some bootleg Hajji movies. The Men Who Stare at Goats. Bad Lieutenant, Port of Call: New Orleans. The Maiden Heist. Armored. The quality isn't that great on some of them, some guy with a video camera in the theater. Others are DVD quality. Roll of the dice. $3.00 a pop, or four for ten bucks.

We've been here twelve days now. We are on the Victory Base Complex, near BIAP. My company is on a very small FOB within another FOB. I can't say too much about it, although it's all over the internet if you know where to look.

We have everything we need here, and life isn't too bad. We are living in the only hardstand barracks in theater, three to a room, but indoor plumbing so, hey. Chow hall is a very short walk, and the food is typically decent Army chow. We have an AAFES trailer here, and a decent gym and MWR.

I am the battalion commander's PSO, Personal Security Officer. His tactical bodyguard, in other words. I'm in charge of a ten man Protective Services Detail. Our job is to provide the BC, the Boss, with close-in protection whenever he goes outside the wire.

I've got a good bunch of boys. They're young and motivated and hardly a knucklehead in the bunch. They do keep me entertained, though. Funny little bastards. I've got a buck sergeant and a corporal to help me keep them straight. They are good boys.

We haven't run any missions yet. I don't know when we will. Or if we will. That pleases my girlfriend. It doesn't look like the Boss will be going outside the wire much, if at all. The war is winding down. The days of door kicking and meet and greets with tribal leaders and sheiks are pretty much down for. Sort of leaves me without much of a job. The vultures are circling, other section leaders licking their chops, wanting to strip my PSD of manpower to backfill their own sections. Free labor. Spare bodies.

We keep busy. We PT every day, run battle drills, work on formations, arrivals, departures. The BC knows we need to learn the area, get outside the wire, get a feel for things. I think he feels bad, knowing how much work I have put into building this PSD, and realizing we might never be used as we had envisioned.

He has me hitting up the other line companies who are going outside the wire. Trying to get my boys seats on some of their missions, strap hang so we can learn the routes and all. Maybe in a few days. Maybe tomorrow.

Today, everybody is lazing around, grazing on care package candy and cookies. I got one that had original crayon art by Hannah, a second grader from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, wishing me a Happy Merry Chrisemas. Included was more candy than I will eat in a year, some hygiene items, a Danny Thomas CD, and an ancient copy of Harold and Maude. We had an OPSEC briefing earlier from a guy in a blue polo shirt with an M9 on his hip and a tribal tat down his left forearm. Now, some of my boys are grilling burgers and shooting the breeze. The chow hall, like all chow halls today, should have a pretty decent Christmas spread.

Other than that, it's just another day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On to Iraq

Well, we are leaving for Iraq in about eleven hours. Nobody is sad to go. It's one step closer to getting home, really. Plus we get out of these tents and into some proper barracks.

Tito Ortiz, the MMA fighter, was here today. Some of the guys went and got their picture taken with him, got an autograph. I didn't bother, the line outside the USO was a little long. All the same, it's nice that he took the time out of his schedule to come visit the troops.

A few days ago, we escorted a bus load of soldiers out to a range. Most of the area we were in is filled with UXO, which means unexploded ordinance. That's Army speak for bombs and munitions that haven't gone off.

Along the way, we passed a Kuwaiti artillery unit doing some live firing, and some camel herders with their camels. Guess they aren't afraid of the UXO. They should be, because I hear a few of those guys get killed every year wandering around out there.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Overheard in the Army

"I already speak a second language, Rock. It's called success."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


We are at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. It's not very nice here. It's been pretty clammy and cold and damp. Plus I'm coming down with something. Sinuses are stopped up. Throats tight and hot. Head hurts.

It's muddy here. Sand gets everywhere. We are crammed into big tents, sleeping on cots. No space, no privacy. It's loud and dirty. Lots of people are getting the crud, coughing, sneezing.

The amenities are nice, though. There's a couple of decent chow halls. A big PX. Lot's of MWR stuff. Taco Bell. Pizza Inn. I'm sitting in a Starbucks, even. So could be worse.

We have had some mandatory training and some mandatory briefings. These are the same mandatory training and mandatory briefings we have already had once or twice before. I guess those first couple of times didn't count.

I have been sending my guys down to the airfield, a couple of hours away, to meet incoming flights. Some of these were PSD missions with the Battalion Commander, but mostly they were just Force Protection missions, to let them learn the roads and get some missions under their belts. I did one night before last with three of my guys. Took most of the night. Other than taking a long time and a few close calls with Kuwaiti drivers, it was uneventful.

Now all my guys are here. We had two come late. One came on a cargo flight, escorting gear, and another came late because he had a baby born a few days before Thanksgiving, and we got him some paternity leave. Everybody is on the ground now, and we are just finishing up what we have to do before we move into Iraq.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


We leave tonight for Kuwait. We have a couple of fueling stops along the way. I don't know how long the flight will be...long, is all. Maybe I can sleep.

My unit mobilized in September for our train up. We did a few weeks at FT Hood, then flew out to McGregor Range, north of FT Bliss. We have been training the last couple of months. We're about as ready as we are gonna get. We will be in Kuwait for two or three weeks, then on to Iraq.

I took a walk around McGregor yesterday afternoon. It snowed overnight, and everything looked about halfway pretty. It was gone today and everything was muddy. McGregor Range is a mobilization point for units enroute to Iraq and Afghanistan. There are many large concrete barricades/boxes around McGregor that are similar to the T Barriers in Iraq. Some units passing through have painted their unit symbols on them. I took a few pictures of them on my walk. I'll post some of them in a few days, when I get an internet connection. Here is the one my unit did.

Okay. Time to go.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I lost Alex a year ago today. I worked the day shift, which meant up before dawn. I woke up to the alarm on my cell phone, got out of bed, and put Alex out. I don't remember every detail. I wish I did. I can picture him sprawled on his grimy doggy bed by the front door. He was probably snoring. I hope I squatted down and stroked him called his name and gently woke him, but it's just as likely that I nudged him with a bare foot until he stirred, then ushered him out the back door while I got ready for work.

Work was work. I don't remember it being a busy day. Holidays can go either way. Some folks dropped off a dozen or so plates of turkey and dressing for us, so I didn't eat at Whataburger for a change. My K9 officer's wife also brought in some turkey, stuffing, gravy, the works. I probably ate twice, and took another plate home with me. Paper plate covered in plastic wrap, I drove carefully so as not to slide it off the seat and into the floorboards. I probably was on the cell phone with my girlfriend on the way home, but like so much of that day, I am really just making a guess based on what I usually did.

Alex was lounging by the tractor shed when I drove up the dirt road. He heard me coming and ran to meet me, chased my truck up to the cabin, was dancing when I climbed out. I guess I petted him and maybe played with him a little on the way to the door. I don't know.

I let him in and stripped off my pistol belt. Uniform shirt and body armor got draped over the back of a chair. I planted myself on the couch to eat my plate. I was in my socks and threw my old blue fleece on over my teeshirt because it was chilly in there. I don't remember what was on TV, I think I Tivo'd the Cowboys game. Alex plopped down by the couch and gave me the beggar eyes while I ate. I gave him a bit of turkey, then told him no when he begged for more.

I finished eating and gave him the plate to lick. That makes me think I had it on a real plate, so I guess I moved it from the paper plate to a real plate and maybe heated it up in the microwave. Probably. Anyway, I let him lick the plate clean, and he noisily lapped up the gravy and bits of stuffing and whatever else there was left over while I put my feet up and watched whatever I was watching.

I heard him throw up maybe half an hour later. This wasn't a big deal, really. Dogs throw up sometimes. When I heard him retch, I got up and saw him sitting on the floor, looking sadly up at me. He didn't get sick inside often, but when he did, he always had the good manners to be embarrassed. I got up to put him out so he could finish puking outside.

He didn't get up to go outside when I told him to, so I grabbed his collar to get him to move. He didn't budge. He scrabbled a paw a little but couldn't get up. Something was wrong. His eyes didn't look right. He looked sluggish and dazed. He had slobber by his mouth and could barely lift his head.

I talked to him, trying to see what was wrong, trying to get a reaction, something. I knew it was bad. He sort of responded to my voice, but couldn't get up or really move at all. I got his water dish, but he couldn't drink. I picked him up to take him out to the truck, but realized no vet was open. I found the vet's number, and left a voice message. Alex was panting heavily. I knew I was losing him.

I just held his head in my lap and stroked him and talked to him until he was gone. It wasn't long.

The next morning I dug a deep hole in the rocky ground under a little stand of oaks. I wrapped Alex in a soft serape. I sat and talked with him before laying him to rest. I buried him on a hillside in a pasture behind my cabin. He is there now, under the oak trees.

Turkey bones. My landlord put some turkey bones out by the tractor barn for the two cats out there. Alex chewed them up and I guess they cut him up inside and that's what killed him.

For weeks, even months afterwards, I would catch him out of the corner of my eye, laying on the floor. I'd turn my head and of course he wasn't there. I'd stagger out of bed in the morning and go to let him out before I would remember. The phone would ring and it was so strange to not hear him whine like he always did, which always annoyed the hell out of me. I missed it, missed not having him underfoot. Even missed his stupid hair shedding all over the place. The carpet is still full of his fur, a year later, no matter how many times I vacuum.

I got Alex when he was eight weeks old, a little furry ball. He didn't want to step from the carpet onto the vinyl flooring of my apartment's kitchen. His first snowfall a few weeks later, he huddled under me until finally cautiously walking around, lifting his paws high in his dainty way. He was almost ridiculously easy to housebreak and train.

Alex could look a little intimidating, but he was pretty good with people. It was his nature to be somewhat aloof around strangers, but he was never aggressive. He warmed to the people in my life. I was the only person he ever bit. Other dogs sometimes bullied him, and he was too passive to do much other than try and avoid them. He had good manners and was a little gentleman.

He was a cat chaser when young but he always had a puzzled look when cats responded to his friendly advances with slashing claws. Squirrels loved taunting him, chattering at him from the safety of the trunk as he barked in frustration below. He had some small misadventures with an armadillo and a skunk once. He once dashed into a herd of buffalo, squaring off with a big old bull, barking and snapping as the buffalo snorted and pawed the ground and made short charges that Alex easily dodged.

He didn't like the water much, but as he got older, he lost his fear of it and would often plop down in a creek to cool off on our hikes. He hated being left behind and all I had to do to get him to go into a happy frenzy was jingle the truck keys. When he was a puppy, he would lay in my lap as I drove, and when he got too big to do that, he still would sometimes lay his head on my leg and doze as I drove.

I miss coming home from work and him dancing circles around me. The way he would leap to his feet and scour the premises for the offending cat whenever I would say, "Get the kitty!" He actually got along very well with cats in his later years, but he was always on the hunt when he heard that little phrase.

I miss him chomping on his chew toys, chasing the deer and rabbits, playing hide and seek with me, giving me high fives, enduring baths and the bad haircuts I gave him, putting up with my singing, being my hiking buddy. I miss my friend.

He was a good boy.